Federal lawmakers call for disaster declaration

Noel Lyn Smith

FARMINGTON — Congressional delegates from New Mexico are supporting the Navajo Nation’s request for a major disaster declaration for an area heavily damaged by rain and floods in Shiprock.

Family members and friends gather at the site of one of the damaged homes in the Salt Creek Wash area of north Shiprock on Aug. 6.

The severe weather in the area of Mesa Farm and Salt Creek Wash in early August resulted in damaged homes and displaced residents, chapter officials reported.

The Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management declared a state of emergency for the area on Aug. 8.

In a Sept. 26 letter, senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and representatives Steve Pearce, Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham call on President Obama to take prompt action on the tribe's request, which was made by Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye.

The federal lawmakers wrote that rainfall from Aug. 3 to Aug. 5 caused severe flooding that resulted in evacuations and damage to the area.

"Of the houses that were destroyed by the flooding, several have been demolished, and about 50 percent of the resulting debris has been removed to date," according to the letter.

The letter also states the tribe's ability to respond to the disaster was already taxed because of its response to the Gold King Mine spill last year.

Udall was in Shiprock on Friday and received an update from residents affected by the mine spill. In an interview after his visit, Udall said he was aware of the August flooding.

"I think it's tremendously important when you have a disaster that the federal government respond in a responsible way," he said.

Begaye said in an interview Friday he was informed about the action taken by the congressional delegation. He said he submitted the letter seeking the disaster declaration to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in September.

"We do appreciate the support. …FEMA needs to come in here and help our people hurt in the flood," Begaye said.

In the meantime, the tribe continues to help displaced residents, he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-546-4636.